Joel Roberts Poinsett was born on March 2nd, 1779 in Charleston, South Carolina. As a very educated young person he was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and German. He had studied medicine, law, and military science. Early on he had the opportunity to travel in Europe and Asia from 1801-1804 and 1806-1808. He returned home amid indications of war with Great Britain and was a special agent to the South American states from 1810-1814. He served in the South Carolina state legislature from 1816 to 1820; was chairman of the state's Board of Public Works from 1818 to 1820; and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1821 to 1825. He served as special envoy to Mexico in 1822 through 1923. While in Mexico, he advocated the causes of South American republics and Greek independence. He was even offered a commission in the Russian army. In 1925 President Madison appointed him as the first ambassador to Mexico. In 1830, he returned home to South Carolina to espouse the Unionist's cause in nullification quarrels from 1830 to 1833. In 1833, he married Mary Izard Pringle. He also spearheaded what is now known as the Smithsonian Institution. He expanded the operations of West Point.
But throughout all these endeavors, Mr. Poinsett collected cultural and horticultural artifacts the world over and was an accomplished amateur botanist. Brother Poinsett became fascinated with the native Euphorbia pulcherrima, whose "petals" are actually bracts surrounding clusters of tiny yellow flowers. In 1826, he brought the plant home to the United States, and it was first called "painted leaf" and "Mexican fire plant." Later, it was renamed POINSETTIA (Poinsettia pulcherrima) in his honor.
Brother Poinsett is recorded as having been Past Master of Recovery Lodge No. 31, Greenville, and Solomon's Lodge No. 1, Charleston, South Carolina. In 1821, Brother Poinsett was elected Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, but was never able to serve as Grand Master, because of his appointment as Secretary of War (1837-1841) under President Van Buren. He did serve as Grand High Priest in South Carolina (1821-1841). At the request of Mexican Freemasons, he sent for charters for five lodges, which were granted by the Grand Lodge of New York. Subsequently, he helped establish the Grand Lodge of Mexico, and is credited with introducing Royal Arch Masonry to Mexico.
At the age of 72 he died at the home of his doctor in Stateburg, South Carolina.
In his honor, Poinsett State Park has been created in S.C.
He is buried at the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, S.C.